News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 16, 2013

Smalltown America

Author fills Poland chapel with laughs, inspiration

Dianne Frances D. Powell
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Around 100 people from Poland, Brazil, Terre Haute and surrounding areas packed Poland Historical Chapel Sunday to spend “An Afternoon with Philip Gulley.”

A light afternoon.

From the first few words of his talk, Gulley — a pastor and author — brought the crowd to roars of laughter. He told story after funny story about his childhood and about smalltown living.

“Growing up, I wanted to be in the medical profession ... but I wasn’t smart enough,” Gulley said to the crowd.

   “So then I became a pastor,” he joked. The audience broke into laughs.

The Rev. Philip Gulley is pastor of Fairfield Friends Meeting in Plainfield. He is the author of 16 books including the “Harmony” series of novels about a fictitious Indiana town and its Quaker community and “Front Porch Tales: Warm Hearted Stories of Family, Faith, Laughter and Love.”

Gulley has also hosted shows on Indiana PBS stations.

He is known to some as a voice of smalltown American life.

“I just love the depth of caring at small towns,” Gulley told the Tribune-Star.

In some of his books and during his talk, Gulley captured the truths of everyday life through humor.

“Back in the days, back in the olden days ... you did not argue with your parents. You did not do that. You did not talk back ... and nobody cared how you felt, so consequently you just got over it,” Gulley said.

“You learned to live with adversity,” he told the crowd after one of his stories.

“We do relate to his stories,” said Joyce Smidley, board chair of the Poland Historical Chapel Society Inc., a nonprofit organization that runs the Poland Historical Chapel.

The afternoon was meant to provide “enjoyment and stories we can laugh about,” Smidley said.

When the chapel doors opened on Sunday for Gulley’s talk, it was filled with people.

“Wouldn’t it be fun to pack the chapel like this every time we open the door?” Smidley said to the crowd during the introduction.

The event — which included a book signing and a reception — was the first of an annual speaker series at the historical landmark, which endured extensive damage after an arsonist set it on fire in 2009. The chapel reopened in October 2011. It was built in 1869, originally as a Presbyterian Church.

“The intent [of the speaker series] is to have as many people to the chapel as possible. We want it to be used frequently,” Smidley said.

Before the fire, the chapel has been open to the public longer hours, but now it is open for a few hours on the second Sunday of each month, Smidley said.

Programs such as the speaker series, Smidley said, is one way to open the doors more frequently.

“We hope to, in the process, gain new members for the chapel,” she said, because the organization relies heavily on its members.

Attendees paid $10 for tickets to the event. Proceeds go to the upkeep of the chapel, Smidley said.

One in the audience was Jean Hull of Reelsville. She said she has heard Gulley speak at another event in Brazil.

“He’s very interesting and funny. He’s a really good speaker,” she said.

Funny but filled with truth.

The stories ring “true to our own lives today,” Smidley said.

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or